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August 5: What’s the worst thing that could happen to a kid?

The death of his parents.

But it’s not just us humans who feel the pain of becoming orphans. Three orphaned tiger cubs have shown that when you lose your folks, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an animal or not. The pain is the same.

The Tiger Cubs who Lost their Parents
The Tiger Cubs who Lost their Parents [Illustration by Shiju George]
A happy white tiger family lived in Nandankanan Zoo in Orissa. The family comprised a father, Sukant, a mother, Durga and three male cubs – Jagat, Bhagat and Swagat.

Durga fell very sick one day. She was struck by a dreaded illness due to which a lot of white tigers died in Nandankanan recently. Durga died shortly afterwards. A report on this entire incident came in ‘The Indian Express’.

The cubs were very sad. But they still had their father to take care of them. And Sukant was determined to do the best for them.

He ensured that they got the best portions of meat at feeding time. He took his own share from the leftovers after they had finished. He tried his best to not make them feel their mother’s absence. He was a good father.

But a worse fate awaited the cubs. Sukant too, fell ill within a few weeks of his wife’s death. It was a serious illness and the zoo doctors could do nothing to make him better. On July 27, Sukant died.

The cubs refused to believe that their father was dead. They tried to revive him at first. When they couldn’t, they surrounded his body and stood waiting through the night for their father to wake up.

That’s how Nakul Beura found them the next morning. Nakul Beura is an animal keeper in Nandankanan Zoo. His job is to feed the animals, clean their enclosures and look after them when they fall ill. Every morning, he goes for a routine check of the animal enclosures. That day, when he entered the enclosure of Sukant and his family, he was taken aback by what he saw. The three cubs were guarding the body of their father. As soon as they spotted Nakul, they rushed to him and then back to their father’s body as if they were seeking Nakul’s help to revive him.

Nakul saw there was nothing to be done. He informed the authorities in the zoo. The cubs were removed to the feeding chamber while Sukant’s body was removed.

That very night, Nakul heard a distress call from the cubs inside the enclosure. A distress call is made by an animal when it is in extreme pain. Like when it is badly wounded. To the cubs, the pain of losing their father was similar to the pain of being wounded. They were devastated. With their father dead, they had no one else to go to — what were they to do?

Isn’t it sad? The really tragic part is that their parents’ deaths could perhaps have been avoided if the zoo authorities had paid a little attention to the welfare of the animals. Then the terrible tragedy that befell the animals of Nandankanan zoo would not have happened. And families like that of Sukant’s would not have fallen apart.